Earlier this month, Drax, a four-month-old puppy, was rushed to an Iowa emergency room with what appeared to be intense pain and paralysis in his rear legs. Drax’s owner, Thomas Hand, had been seen by witnesses beating and throwing the pup around. When the veterinarians examined him, Drax appeared to have lost all sensation in his rear limbs and had several fractures. The dog, who is now in the care of a foster home, will likely need surgery to repair his legs and veterinarians are monitoring him for signs of feeling and sensation in his lower body.
Hand, who runs an online amphibian pet shop, was arrested and charged with animal abuse and torture under a new Iowa law signed by the governor just four days earlier. But unfortunately, Iowa prosecutors can only charge him with a misdemeanor for an act so violent as Hand’s was. That’s because Iowa is the only remaining state where torturing a dog or cat in a way resulting in serious injury or death is not an automatic felony.
While some lawmakers in Iowa did attempt to include felony level penalties in the new law, others, beholden to agricultural interests, stripped the language out of the bill.
Hand’s case should serve as a powerful example for these lawmakers on why they need to rethink that decision, not just to protect animals in the state, but also to protect Iowa’s residents.
It is a known fact by now that those who commit acts of abuse against animals often also commit violence against people. There appears to be some evidence of this in Hand’s case. On Valentine’s Day this year, he was placed under arrest for domestic abuse assault and faces a charge of child endangerment.
Iowans want their lawmakers to act to protect animal from such cruelty. In a Remington poll last December, 69 percent said they believe domestic animal torture should be a felony charge. Lawmakers in Congress and 49 states have already recognized that torturing animals is a serious crime, and should, in some circumstances, be dealt with as a felony.
We are grateful to Iowa lawmakers for upgrading their animal cruelty laws this year, but as this case reveals, it is simply not enough. Animals like Drax, who may never walk again, deserve a fuller measure of justice. It doesn’t do Iowa’s image, nor its citizens, any good for their state to stand as an outlier in the nation, as a place where those who commit the most horrendous acts against animals can still get away with a slap on the wrist.